Empowering Women Around the World By Grace
Change is a big word. We hear it a lot these days. “Things need to change.” “The time for change is now.” “You can change the world.” But what does that mean? And how can we start to wrap our mind around this giant concept of “change?” Well, for us, Emily and Kelsey, two twenty-somethings with endless dreams and questions, change was something we set out to understand and to enact.
We founded The By Grace Foundation with the not-so-simple goal of changing the world. But how does one do that? For us, changing the world started with changing the life of one woman. And then another. The By Grace Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that empowers women through education and enterprise. We teach women in impoverished communities a trade or artisanal skill (specifically tailoring, leather work and jewelry making), then employ these artisans to craft our signature line of clothing and accessories.
To give you a better idea of what we do and why we do it, we have to go back to the very beginning, before By Grace was even a dream of ours. Emily, one of our co-founders, grew up in the 10/40 window of Ghana, West Africa, which is an area of the world with the least access to resources on the planet. Experiencing this state of extreme poverty at such a young age had a huge impact on her worldview. In Ghana, despite the severe, cyclical poverty, everyone has one nice dress. And this dress is what is worn to all major life events. It was a special day when a girl got to choose her dress. “I remember walking into a seamstress shop, overwhelmed by the beautiful, colorful fabrics surrounding me. I chose a deep blue fabric and placed it on the cutting table,” Emily recalls smiling. “I remember walking to church the next Sunday, feeling beautiful in my new dress. In a hardened Sahara full of filthy, brown earth, the dresses were vibrant. I looked at my friend Atomboraoh, clad in her special dress rather than her usual off-white t-shirt. She smiled at me, radiant. And in that moment, I knew she felt the same way that I did. Beautiful.”
That's how By Grace was born. A spark in Emily’s heart that wouldn't die. A realization of a social need and a solution. We cannot change the world through charity nor through hand-outs, but we can radically change the lives of women and their families by partnering and working with these talented and intelligent women across the world.
Our first workshop was launched in Tamale, Ghana. Our business model focuses on a master/ apprentice training program. This allows us to employ local artisans, while educating a future generation. The creation of a sellable product elevates the women into self-sufficient entrepreneurs, while enabling us to tell their stories to the Western consumers, who can support female empowerment through a simple purchase. This isn’t charity, this is radical change.
We expanded to India in 2016, as we recognized a pattern – in areas of extreme poverty there existed talented women and beautiful materials, but no outlet or opportunity to participate in the global marketplace. The same is true for the Rosebud Native American Reservation in South Dakota where we opened our fifth workshop in November 2017. We now have two workshops in Tamale, Ghana and partnerships with organizations in Kochi and Bangalore, India and on the Rosebud Native American Reservation. We provide the necessary resources for success and open the right doors into the best marketplaces so that women can truly succeed. We started with two women, Lamisi and Lydia, and we now employ 102 women.
In all five campuses we provide a tailor training program, along with a safe and healthy work environment. Our business model emphasizes the acquisition of skills that girls and women can use for a lifetime, so that we are able to empower these women, ultimately giving them the necessary tools to elevate both themselves and their families out of generational poverty. That starts with one woman who is able to support her family and pay the school fees for her children.
That’s how we’re changing the world. We interview our seamstresses throughout their apprenticeships and their employment with By Grace. As neither Emily nor Kelsey can be on the ground daily in Ghana, India or South Dakota, we rely on these interviews to guide our decisions and to gauge our level of impact. Is what we’re doing making a difference? What can we be doing better? Is By Grace the vessel for change that we so dearly want it to be?
In an interview with Gifty Daniels, one of our seamstresses working out of a workshop in Ghana, we asked her how her life is different since coming to work for us. Her response: I was hopeless before By Grace. There, right there. That’s when we knew we were not only on the right track, but that we could never look back, that we could never stop helping more people. We also asked Gifty what her favorite proverb was. “Small drops of water make a mighty ocean,” was her response. The synchronicity was serendipitous. We know that no one person or company can change the world. But change truly does start with one woman. We made a difference in Gifty’s life. That’s a small drop, but we know we are contributing to a mighty ocean.
The women we’ve educated, employed and, most importantly, empowered have created gorgeous products that we now sell on our website and in boutiques throughout the country. So here’s our shameless plug: join us. Tell our story, buy a purse, tag us on Instagram. Because one woman at a time, we are changing the world!